Northern Ireland news

Abuse compensation 'will be included in the Queen's Speech'

Margaret McGuckin, Shauneen Malone, solicitor Claire McKeegan and Ron Graham at Stormont before their meeting with Secretary of State Julian Smith yesterday. Picture by Mal McCann

COMPENSATION legislation for survivors of institutional abuse will be included in the Queen's Speech, the secretary of state has insisted.

Julian Smith met survivors at Stormont yesterday and retiterated his commitment to the legislation.

Speaking after the meeting, abuse victims said he told them that compensation payments would form part of the government's agenda for the coming parliament.

Provided the speech goes ahead on October 14, legislation could be brought before parliament within weeks.

Parliament will be suspended on Tuesday, days before the speech. However, it remains unclear whether Labour and other opposition parties will back the government's legislative agenda.

Survivors have repeatedly expressed fears that last month's suspension of parliament and continued political instability at Westminster could further delay a planned compensation bill.

Margaret McGuckin, of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said yesterday's meeting with Mr Smith was positive.

"He said that he had committed to taking it through at the Queen's Speech," she said.

"I could tell how serious he was. He's already spoken to people about the Queen's Speech and officials who pass bills through Parliament."

She said survivors are hopeful that the legislation can be introduced to parliament within the next few weeks.

They also hope that £10,000 payments can be introduced for elderly or ill survivors while a redress board to assess individual payments is being established.

It is almost three years since the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry exposed serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse over decades at children's homes run by religious orders, charities and the state.

It recommended compensation payments, an apology and care packages for victims and survivors. But the process stalled due to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

Ms McGuckin said Mr Smith agreed to reflect on renewed calls for an official apology.

"That (an apology) is more meaningful to a lot of our people than money," she said.

Ms McGuckin said survivors also pressed the secretary of state on the establishment of life-long care packages for survivors.

Some survivors had called for interim payments of £10,000 ahead of the legislation being passed.

However, it is understood the Northern Ireland Office has rejected this suggestion amid fears it could lead to potential legal challenges.

Solicitor Claire McKeegan, of Phoenix Law, who represents the majority of abuse victims, said : The meeting with the secretary of state was positive and the survivors left feeling cautiously hopeful that he will do the right thing for them.

"Whilst it remains a concern that there is still no definitive timetable on bringing the bill through Parliament, he did state that he is “very committed” to resolving the issue of the outstanding redress and to ensuring services are in place that survivors need urgently."

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